Tag Archive: jesus

Recently, a youth leader shared a conversation she had with a camper.

A few weeks ago, this camper confided that she was bullied in the last few months because of a recent neurological diagnosis. The camper felt she was pigeon-holed because of that diagnosis. The leader shared her own experience with some of her own struggles and the hope Jesus presented to her during that time.

Fast forward a few weeks later, this camper met up with the leader. The camper expressed her desire to want to be baptized because, “she wants to have Jesus as her label, not that diagnosis”.

It was a powerful reminder for me to recognize how I’m defined. What or who do I want to be defined by? Would others identify by the label of Jesus or something else? Questions that dig to the root of who I am.

So excited that this camper, through this leader, knows who she wants to identify with.

Do you?


Death from the Eye Roll

Ever have someone roll their eyes at you? (Ever do that to someone else?) I did that (unfortunately) to someone the other day and their comment afterwards revealed how deep such a gesture cuts.

Sometimes, I’m saying non-verbally while I roll my eyes, “No this again” or “Are you serious?” I find I’m usually fatigued when I roll my eyes. To me, it’s a state of flabbergastedness.

For the recipient, it feels like I’m saying they don’t matter. In fact, it can be interpreted as a sign of contempt. Contempt isn’t just anger. It’s the attitude “You’re beneath me and don’t even deserve to exist.” When we slip to that state of mind, we’re in danger of what Jesus called the essence of the commandment “do not murder”. Whether we intended to or not, our eye rolling communicates a thought that buries a person, signifying they are not worth our time or attention.

Beware the eye roll!

Toronto over the last few days has been inundated with the Rob Ford saga. The most recent was a video where he ranted how he was going to kill someone. This blog isn’t a commentary on the recent events themselves. What it did remind me was the darkness of the soul we all have. (The main difference is that Ford’s is open for all the world to see.)

The fact is, all of us are capable of this kind of contempt and malice (whether we’re inebriated or not). Many of us try to have safeguards to at least buffer us from heading towards that darkness. But make no mistake, the potential for evil is within us all. To suggest otherwise is to fool ourselves into thinking “it could never happen to us”.

I’ve come to realize that nothing really surprises me in terms of the depth of depravity. It saddens and at times angers me. But it doesn’t shock me. God, through Scripture, has made it pretty clear that we are all capable of this. So why should I be any different?

The only difference is a dependency on God. Left to my own devices, I could easily slip toward that spectrum (although it may not be as public as Ford’s). I admit there are still dark spots in my soul. There are thoughts that sometimes I catch myself wondering, “Am I really thinking that?!” I need Jesus with the help of the Holy Spirit and His community of believers to lovingly and honestly point out my blind spot.

Don’t think it could never happen to you. (And beware of being contemptuous/superior when someone else delves to those depths.)

Whenever my kids whine, I remind them that my goal as a parent isn’t to make them happy. Otherwise, I’d be doing everything they want me to do or give. It’s not that my intention is to make their lives miserable (although they may think that, especially as we near the teen years … YIKES!).

My goal as a parent is to help them see and experience who Jesus is. That includes providing for their necessities and sometimes a bit beyond. But my goal isn’t to give them what they want. It’s showing them who God is in (hopefully) all I do. In many ways, I live out practical theology with them (since what I really think of God will impact my lifestyle).

My definition of success as a parent is if my children will grow to be independent, positive contributors who can accurately define what is entailed in a Christ-centred life (whether they choose to follow him is ultimately their own decision).

Recently, I read an article on 2013 Prediction: Educational Games Trump the Gamification of Education by Mindsnacks. The premise essentially was gamifying education i.e. creating external rewards to “learn” actually did more harm than good. As Mindsnacks suggests,

Most attempts to gamify education stem from a belief that learning is something unpleasant, something people don’t want to do unless they’re forced to do so. In gamified classrooms, students typically slog through traditional (some students would say boring) assignments in order to receive such rewards as validation, special privileges and peer recognition.

What struck me is how many churches essentially used gamification in evangelism. I’ve heard numerous times how an evangelistic event involved a prize for someone who brought the most friends. I’ve always been hesitant with such strategies because the purpose of evangelism isn’t to get as many people into the door as possible, but to demonstrate the person and message of Jesus. Gamifying evangelism really is just using people i.e. “I’m just inviting you here because I want that new iPad” instead of “I invited you here because I believe Jesus is that important.”

Perhaps we need to step back a moment sometimes and really ask, “Do I really believe Jesus is the most important part of my life?” (And why I share him will exemplify that answer.)

The other day, a young child got frustrated. He could not get past this one issue he was struggling with and his exceptionalities compounded the problem. My instinct was to say “Trust Jesus and he’ll help you past your frustrations.” Yet a tension kept me from being so forthright.

Yes, I do believe Jesus changes and transforms lives. Yet I know he doesn’t do that so in such a mechanistic way. His desire is to transform lives yet his plan or method is so all-encompassing that it doesn’t necessarily go the way we think it should go.

There are times when we overpromise what the gospel is. We make claims of Jesus’s transformational promises but in such a way that it’s supposed to happen our way. So when Jesus “fails”, we tend to reject Jesus. How many people have been burned or betrayed by such promises?

Yet Jesus DOES transform lives, so we must also not underpromise what the gospel is. For Jesus did claim that he has brought life, life most abundant!

So where does this leave us? It’s a tension in demonstrating what the gospel is actually without overpromising or underpromising. It is simplistic and yet how all the variables interact together makes it complex. Perhap’s why the Proverbs are usually taught more frequently than Lamentations or Ecclesiastes because Proverbs is much more straightforward compared to the complexity of the other two wisdom books. So we must be cautious not to extrapolate promises that God didn’t intend to make in the first place. Otherwise we hinder someone’s faith progression especially young children or those who can’t think very abstractly.

So what did I tell my young friend? Essentially that Jesus is with him and wants to work through his frustration with him alongside me. I didn’t want to promise that Jesus would solve it lest he starts thinking that Jesus is his personal problem solver. But Jesus does want to provide his presence, part of which includes me also journeying with this child.

Within the evangelical community, there is this tension between social justice and a claim to biblical theology, most recently highlighted in the debate about same-sex marriages. (This is typically exemplified between liberal and conservative polarities.) I can appreciate what the tension tries to resolve.

God’s heart is to remind humanity that they are all worthy of his grace. Not worthy because of what we’ve done but because of his great love for all of us. He brings dignity even to those who are on the fringe. Many Christians seek to continue that by affirming all people whether because of gender, race or sexual orientation.

God also has a high standard of what life is meant to be. The very definition of “sin” is deciding how to live life our own way instead of God’s way (the premise being if God did create everything, then he should know how it all works best together). So many Christians hold tight in calling sin what it is and warning others against moving it.

A lot of times, Christians sway towards one polarity or the other, claiming their dominant premise of who God is (or how he is reacting).

Yet I try to hold on to both of these polarities in its tension because I believe Scripture demonstrates that God holds both a desire to uphold the dignity of all individuals and to hold humanity to a high standard of living according to what it was meant to be (i.e. God’s intended original plan). And it will continue to be a tension because I may never get the “right” balance between the two. It doesn’t mean I should give up on it, because Jesus did exemplify this balance so well in bringing dignity to those on the fringe while also challenging all to the high standard God set before humanity.

To be like Christ, I must continue to wrestle with this tension in my current finite understanding, trusting that God (being God) already knows how the two go hand in hand.

How do you deal with this tension?

The Urgency of the Gospel

There’s a tension that I wrestle with regarding evangelism. I’ve heard analogies suggesting that, because Christians have the answer, we are obliged to get the message out as fast as possible. For some, they interpret this as, “I must go out and spread the gospel to as many people as I can and as fast as I can. If they refuse, that’s their problem.”

Many of us realize that, at least in this culture and context, to just tell someone that they are going to hell and need to repent doesn’t usually go well. (Again, there are those who basically say, since they refuse to repent, they can go to hell.) However, many Christians tend express the gospel in a language that makes more sense to non-Christians, wanting to bridge through relationships and to demonstrate the love and grace of God. I must admit at times that I wonder if I’m not “passive” in the evangelism aspect of my life towards my non-Christian friends.

There is an urgency in helping people see the grace, mercy and judgement of God. Yet there is a tension on ensuring we are communicating the gospel well (not just telling it as we think it should be told). Perhaps that’s where dependence on the Holy Spirit is much needed and our attentiveness to his promptings. After all, I don’t think there is a magic formula how evangelism can be done.

Recently, someone posted the question “Is our gospel big enough to welcome everybody at our church?” At first, my reaction was, “Well, it should be.” Then I caught myself and started asking, “Should it be?”

The Christian church has wrestled with the tension the Gospel brings. In many ways, it seems paradoxical. On the one hand, Jesus enlarged the gospel for his audience to segments of the population who never conceived they could actually be part of God’s kingdom. Jesus is often accused of fellowshipping with “those people” (i.e. people who the religious community never thought had a chance of being saved). This was indeed GOOD NEWS! At the same time, Jesus reminds his disciples that he came to divide families, that if you weren’t willing to follow him unconditionally, you could not be part of the kingdom of God. The Bible tells us that while many did initially follow him, a lot of them ended up leaving because it was too challenging.

In today’s society, there still exists this tension. On the one hand, we are told to be counter-cultural; Westboro Baptist Church (an Independent Baptist church) tries to be known for this. There are those on the other end who try to be as culturally relevant and engaging as possible, all embracing and unconditionally accepting. To some extent, that seems true. Again, Jesus invited prostitutes and other outcasts into God’s kingdom. Yet Jesus is clear that many (i.e. majority of the people) will not be part of his kingdom i.e. there will be a LOT of people who will walk away from him. Frankly, it’s not our job to decide “who’s in, who’s out”. But Jesus presents a picture where the church, while open to everyone, is a place where not everyone will want to be. Grant it, there are times when that rejection comes because of us (i.e. we’re being idiots and bad representatives of Jesus). However, other times, the rejection is because of Jesus himself (assuming we are representing him properly). (We can’t assume that everyone we do falls in to the latter category; self-reflection and Spirit-guidance is needed for us to see when we’re in the former.) Some issues where this is quite present is the interaction with LGBTQ issues and (to a smaller extent) cultural holidays like Halloween.

Frankly, I’m still wrestling with this. I want to honour my God and follow Jesus’ way of engaging with the community around me. I must admit that I don’t ways know what’s the best way to do that. Where do you see yourself in that continuum / tension?

Doubt as a Mentor

In the book The Theological Turn of Youth Ministry, Andrew Root has a chapter entitled “Doubt and Confirmation: the mentor as a co-doubter”. One of Root’s premise is when we teach absolute certainty of the Christian faith, we are actually defining faith incorrectly. Specifically, he spells out this notion on p.195. Root states, “Christianity is about living in opposition to certainty; it is about faith in the midst of doubt.” In other words, when supporting a person in their faith development, it’s not about providing absolute answers that fit neatly into a pre-packaged box, but walking through the doubts. It’s also not about trying to erase all doubts, but to seek God within them. As Root suggests, “Doubt then is not our enemy but our great friend. For it keeps us from the most unchristian things: assuming we possess certainty, that we need not think about our faith or love our neighbors, and worse, that we need not search for God, for we know this God certainty. Faith that has become certain is no longer (by definition) faith; it has become idolatry, where we no longer seek out a living personal God but make this God into a frozen idol.”

This feels very uncomfortable. We turn to passages like Hebrews 11:1 “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” It also seems to juxtapose the notion that God is absolute, unchanging and true. To allow doubt into the equation is to somehow diminish or deny that Christ is the answer.

Let me profess right now: Jesus is the answer for life’s most deepest question “Why do I exist?” However, we somehow have extrapolated that Jesus is somehow the only answer to every question. (If your teacher asked “What’s 2 + 2?”, I don’t think the answer is “Jesus”.) Whenever someone expresses doubt, we tend to say things like “Just trust Jesus” (cf. Matthew 14:31). Yet there’s a couple of things to remember:

  1. We don’t have all the answers. Jesus does, but we don’t and cannot assume we do. In our confined, temporal essence, we couldn’t comprehend it anyway.
  2. God’s intention in life isn’t to try to eradicate all our doubts as fast as possible (similar to the notion that God’s intention isn’t to give us a smooth, trouble-free life right from the start).

Perhaps then discipleship isn’t about trying to cram as much biblical truth into a disciple, but rather learning how to navigate through the doubts. It seems to me that coaching plays a part in this discipleship specifically in this area. Coaching does not assume that the coach has the answers (nor would a good coach want to provide all the answers). Professional life coaching believes that the client already has the answer and the coach helps to draw that answer out of them. In this case, the coach/mentor becomes more of a journey companion in navigating through the doubts, allowing the client/student to own and understand those doubts (and answers) without providing it for them.

If we had these kinds of coaches in youth ministry (vs. the “know it all sage”), we could embrace Doubt as a Mentor.

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